The circulatory system could be compared o a big city’s freeways, where the bumper to bumper cars, in this case, the frenetic blood cells, are delivering oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body. The pumping heart maintains the pulse of the traffic by pushing the blood cells on their way through the arteries.
On the cells’ return trip to the heart and lungs, the veins have a harder time of it. For one thing, the pressure caused by the pumping heart is decreased. For another, the veins below the heart, in the legs and torso, must work against gravity, as the blood makes its way up from the feet. So these vessels depend more on the leg muscles to help pump the blood back to the heart. The veins also contain valves to help keep the blood moving along. The valves work like locks in a canal. As blood flows through a valve, its “doors” slam shut so the blood can’t go backward.
When any one of these valves fail, blood can seep back and begin to pool, often in the lower legs. The extra pressure of the increased volume of pooling blood can, over time, cause subsequent valves to fail. Then the vein’s walls begin to bulge and become misshapen. At this point, the vein may show through the skin surface, looking knotty and gnarled, blue and bumpy.
It’s estimated that 25 percent of all women and 10 percent of all men are affected by varicose veins. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent or, at the very least, postpone, their development and decrease their severity.
1. Check your family tree
The tendency to develop varicose veins can run in families. The reason for this is unknown. Some experts believe there is a weakness in the gene that governs the development of the veins. This may lead to defects in the structure of valves and veins or, in some people, a decrease in the number of valves in the veins, causing the few that are there to get overloaded in their duties. If you do find a history of varicose veins in your family, the sooner you follow preventative measures the better.
2. Get moving
Exercise works by keeping the veins empty of pooling blood. Every time a muscle contracts in the buttocks, thighs, or lower legs, blood is helped on its way back to the heart. However, it’s hard to say if exercise will only postpone, or if it can prevent varicose veins. If there is a strong family history of the condition present, then exercise will probably postpone the condition. To get your legs moving, almost any exercise that involves the legs will do, from aerobics to strengthening to spot toning activities. Ride a bike, take an aerobics class, go for a walk or a run, use the stair machine in the gym – these are all good exercises for the legs. Spot toning exercises, such as leg raises, that specifically build up the muscles in the buttocks, thighs, and lower legs are also recommended.
3. Lose weight
Obesity puts a strain on every part of the body. Furthermore, people who are overweight tend to be more immobile and get less exercise. As a result, overweight people usually have muscles that can’t as efficiently help the veins pump their blood back to the heart. In addition, an overweight person’s blood vessels carry more blood than a thinner person’s, so the strain is greater on the vessels themselves.
4. Eat a balanced diet
Besides helping you to maintain proper weight, a balanced diet can give you nutrients that may actually prevent varicose veins. Protein and Vitamin C are both components of collagen, part of the tissue in the veins and valves. If the collagen is in good shape, the tissues may not fall apart as readily. However, diet will not reverse a case of varicose veins.
5. Take a break from standing
When you are upright the feet are the furthest possible distance away from the heart, so the blood has fat to go, against gravity no less, to get back to the heart. As a result, the blood can have a tendency to pool in the lower legs, leading to the development of varicose veins.
6. But don’t sit too long, either
Some experts theorize that even sitting can contribute to varicose veins They believe since the knees and groin are bent while sitting, the blood flow has a difficult course back to the heart. So it is very important on a long car or plane ride or during a day of sitting at the office that you get up and stretch your legs once in a while. Navarro suggests this rejuvenator: Stand on your toes and flex the heel up and down ten times.
7. Get Support from your stockings
Support pantyhose are better than regular hosiery for helping to control the development of varicose veins. Better yet are the support stockings available by prescription. These stockings help by keeping the veins in the legs from bulging, and as a result, keeping the fluids from collecting in the legs. How do they work? They apply more pressure to the legs than to the thigh area. Since more pressure is exerted on the lower legs, blood is more readily pushed up toward the heart. The stockings’ compression on the legs is measured in millimeters of mercury, called mm Hg, and ranges from 20 mm Hg for milder cases to 60 mm Hg for severe varicosity. (In comparison, support pantyhose from a department store have a strength of 14 mm Hg to 17 mm Hg.) The prescription stockings also come in a variety of lengths: below the knee, mid thigh, full thigh, and waist high. The lower strength stockings are sometimes recommended for pregnant women. Since the stockings are available in a few colors, some women prefer to wear them under pants. The downside: The stockings have a tendency to feel hot.
8. Slip into spandex pants
Like store-bought support pantyhose, this type of stretch pants applies pressure to the legs.
Cover up the blues If you have stopped wearing shorts or going to the beach because you are embarrassed about your varicose veins, make them disappear. There are products specially made to cover the blue vein lines that are causing you to take cover. Available in a variety of shades to match your skin, the cream is applied by hand and blended. Leg Magic by Covermark Cosmetics is waterproof and even has a sun protection factor of 16 to protect your legs from sun’s harmful rays. Wearing stockings over the cover-up won’t make it fade or rub off, and you can even go for a swim. While these types of products obviously won’t fix the veins, they make you feel better about yourself.
9. Consider the effects of estrogen
The hormone is generally believed to have a detrimental effect on the collagen and connective tissue of the veins. And while the pill probably does not have a direct correlation to varicose veins, it may have an indirect one. The pill may lead to the development of embolisms, or clots in the blood, which can interfere with blood flow.
10. Prop up your legs
Elevating the legs is good but raising them above your heart is even better. By doing this, you are working with gravity to help get the blood out of the ankles and back to the heart. This is the oldest and most successful way to alleviate discomfort and facilitate drainage and reduce swelling. As a matter of fact, Hippocrates in ancient Greece wrote of its benefits, he notes. Lie down on a couch and put your feet on the back of it. If you can, elevate the legs for ten minutes every hour.
11. Flex your feet
Flexing might help by making the muscle contract, which in turn helps squeeze the blood out of the veins. While your legs are elevated, try these three exercises to keep the blood pumping out of your feet and back to your heart.
- The ankle pump: Flex your foot up and down as you would when you pump a piano pedal or gas pedal.
- Ankle circles: Rotate your feet clockwise and counterclockwise.
- Heel Slips: With your knees bent, slide your heels back and forth.
- Sleep with elevated feet: For those with chronic swelling the lower legs, it may help to put a few pillows under your feet while sleeping.
- Wear tennis shoes: If your feet habitually swell, it may be worthwhile to wear tennis shoes or other lace-up shoes that can be opened up or loosened to alleviate the pressure.